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Pasco Tribune

Police captain defends response to fatal skydive jump

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Published:   |   Updated: March 27, 2013 at 07:20 PM

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco criticized the Zephyrhills Police Department during Tuesday's press conference addressing the investigation into the deaths of two skydivers near Skydive City.

Nocco was miffed his agency wasn't immediately called in to help with the search for skydive instructor Orvar Arnarson, 41, and his student, Andrimar Pordarson, 25. Arnarson and Pordarson were found dead in a wooded area in Zephyrhills after their primary parachutes did not open during a jump Saturday.

“Once they realized that it was no longer in their jurisdiction, they left and they handed (the investigation) solely over to the Pasco Sheriff's Office,” Nocco said Tuesday. “So we were coming in secondary. Our members were getting this information secondhand. So basically we were trying to run with that situation. Not being brought in from the very beginning was very tough, especially when that jurisdiction leaves during the investigation; it made it hard for us.”

On Wednesday, Zephyrhills Police Department Capt. Robert McKinney disputed the sheriff's timeline.

The original timeline the sheriff's office used was that 19 skydivers took off in an airplane from the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport about 10:30 a.m. A call was made to the Zephyrhills Police Department about 12:30 p.m. The sheriff's office was called about 3:30 p.m.

McKinney, who pulled records from the Zephyrhills Police Department's dispatch, said the sheriff's office was called to assist minutes after ZPD got the initial call. His agency received a call at 12:30 p.m. reporting the skydivers missing. At 12:36 p.m., the responding police sergeant called the ZPD dispatch requesting that Pasco County Sheriff's Office deputies assist with the search. The sergeant also advised that the sheriff's office use its helicopter to assist in the search.

At 12:46 p.m., the sergeant radioed he was with a Pasco sheriff's deputy.

“We make it very clear, when there's an emergency it's a very cooperative effort,” McKinney said Wednesday. “You don't consider jurisdictional boundaries as a hindrance. We have a very good working relationship with the sheriff's office actually.”

McKinney said the information that was gathered was collected along with the sheriff's office, so nothing was secondhand.

Kevin Doll, spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, said Wednesday there was a miscommunication in the timeline. He confirmed the sheriff's office received a call at 12:33 p.m. and deputies were dispatched three minutes later. Deputies arrived at 12:48 p.m. Doll said the Pasco sheriff's air unit was notified at 12:39 p.m. and arrived at 3:53 p.m.

“We were notified pretty soon and we were on scene pretty soon,” Doll said.

The bodies of Arnarson and Pordarson were found about 7:30 p.m. by the sheriff's office helicopter in a wooded area off Yonkers Avenue nearly 2 miles southeast of the landing zone.

Doll said his agency was surprised how quickly it was given jurisdiction over the case, considering the condition and location of the men were unknown.

“We were just surprised that they turned over the investigation to us before the two skydivers had been found alive or dead,” Doll said. “We did not know where they were at yet and they turned it over to us, I think, around 3:30.”

McKinney said his officers continued searching for the skydivers in their jurisdiction in the city.

“Our first and foremost concern was to find them and to get as many resources as we can brought together to try and find them,” McKinney said. “We never abandoned (the deputies). My sergeant provided his cellphone number to that corporal on the scene and said 'we're still in our areas looking. If you need anything we can assist you with, call me.'”

A video camera attached to Arnarson's helmet captured images of him attempting to open Pordarson's chute. Pordarson, according to Bill Lindsey, the lead detective for the Pasco sheriff's office, never attempted to open his parachute. Lindsey did not speculate if Pordarson lost consciousness or if there was any other reason he didn't open the chute.

The men's reserve parachutes activated, which happens automatically once a certain altitude is reached. That deployment is done by a computerized mechanism called an Automatic Activation Device, standard on most parachute packs and mandatory for students.

Footage from the camera will not be released, Nocco said. Nocco cited a state law that allows a video or audio recording “that depicts or records the killing of a person” from being released.

About 75,000 skydives originate from Skydive City each year, according to the center. Since opening in 1990, the center estimates it has accounted for more than a million jumps.

The last death at Skydive City was January 1, 2012, when Dr. Theresa Elaine McLaughlin, 60, of Gulfport, died after a jump in which her equipment malfunctioned. Prior to that, Paul C. Luter III, 68, was killed when his parachute collapsed March 19, 2010. Debbie Laws, 48, died Dec. 26, 2008, after she collided with another jumper.


edaniels@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @EDanielsTBO

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